Prytania Theater

5339 Prytania Street,
New Orleans, LA 70115

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Prytania Theater

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First constructed in the early-1900’s, the Prytania Theater is the last remaining single-screen suburban theatre in the state.

Contributed by Blake Thompson

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

SchineHistorian
SchineHistorian on November 23, 2006 at 4:55 pm

Thanks Erin. I had the pleasure of visiting the Prytania and Mr. Rene Brunet in mid-October and found him to be charming and gracious (as was everyone i encountered in New Orleans!) and so very proud of his theater. I wish we’d had more time to chat, but we did look at the many vintage photos on the lobby walls and he had a great story for almost every one of them. The theater itself has obviously been severely redecorated (inside and out) since it’s inception, but through the photos Mr. Brunet was able to show me the original design. He’s had such a long and storied role with so many other great New Orleans theaters. True Southern treasures: the Prytania AND Mr. Brunet!

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 8, 2006 at 5:48 am

According to this December 02. 2006 article, the Prytania was built in 1915.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 4, 2007 at 4:28 pm

This is a 12/1/2006 article about the Prytania Theater.

“New Orleans' last single-screen theater keeps on going.

Source: The America’s Intelligence Wire
Byline: Mary Foster

Theaters once dotted almost every neighborhood in this city.

It’s where families went, where mothers sent their kids for the Saturday matinees, where young men wooed future wives and teenage girls giggled over Hollywood heartthrobs.

RenA Brunet remembers all of them. He worked at most of them. He still runs one of them.

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Brunet said. “I’ve only worked at single screen theaters, but I worked in a bunch of those.”

It was a love affair and a vocation started as a child. Brunet’s father was a theater manager. His mother was working at the refreshment stand when she met his father and married him. Brunet met his wife when he hired her to work at a theater he was running.

And at 85, Brunet is still operating a single-screen theater _ the last neighborhood theater left in Louisiana and one of only about 1,680 in the nation, down from 2,280 in 2001, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

“There aren’t a lot left,” said John Fithian, president of the national group. “The ones that are successful have found a special niche of some sort and filled it. But they can have very loyal customers.”

At one time there were about 15,000 single-screen theaters in the United States, ranging from the opulent movie palaces to the modest neighborhood sites. At various times between the beginning of the 20th century and World War II, New Orleans had more than 100 movie theaters scattered throughout it’s neighborhoods. Families gathered nightly at show places with names like the Famous, the Circle, the Carver, the Aereon and the Pitt.

Three of the city’s grandest movie palaces _ the 2,200-seat Orpheum, the 3,500-seat Loews and the 4,000-seat Saenger _ all opened during the 1920s in the city’s Central Business District. Each remains shuttered following the flooding of Hurricane Katrina.

The Prytania, built in 1915, has been rebuilt at least twice after disasters. The present structure dates to the 1930s, although the brick facade was added later.

Brunet took over the Prytania in 1997, one step ahead of the wrecking ball. The theater had closed the year before and was slated for demolition. With the world racing toward concrete palaces in sprawling suburban parking lots, Brunet wanted a chance to hang on to one theater from the old days. To him, the best days.

“This theater is friendly,” Brunet said. “We know our customers and they know us. We still have people that walk from their houses here. What other theater can say that now?”

Looking back Brunet feels like he spent a lifetime closing down theaters. One by one he shut down the projectors and turned off the lights as the city’s taste changed. With people moving to the suburbs, television taking over and multiplexes springing up, he watched the beloved movie houses turn into furniture stores, derelict buildings, parking lots.

The changing movie market has created challenges in securing first-run movies for the 300-seat theater.

“One of the problems is that distributors want their pictures to run for 10 weeks,” Brunet said. “They can do that in a multiplex, but there’s no way I can. All my customers will have seen it after three weeks.”

To get movies Brunet must pay a fee upfront, then hope to earn it back. To get “Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith” he ponied up $25,000 (A18,939) and had to install a new sound system. To get “Flags of Our Fathers” Brunet paid $10,000 (A7,576).

Hurricane Katrina gouged a hole in the roof, dumped water inside and started mold growth on the walls, but Brunet was ready to reopen when the electricity was restored. It didn’t take long for business to pick up.

“It was about the only thing to do for a long time,” Brunet remembers.

As much as he loves the old theater, Brunet works hard to keep it modern in many respects _ the projector, the sound system. He hopes to have new seats installed by the first of the year and a new screen next year.

The Prytania makes a modest profit, Brunet said. Tickets cost $7 (A5.30) for adults, $6 (A4.50) for senior citizens and students, and $5 (A4) for children, below the prices of many suburban multiplex theaters. That’s enough to allow him to cancel a Sunday matinee so a Catholic church can hold mass there and screen a special movie, enough so that he could show four movies on Halloween and not charge admission.

“I’m not getting rich,” he said. “But I love every minute of it. I’m happy the whole time I’m here”.

MovieTalkDave
MovieTalkDave on August 13, 2007 at 12:55 am

Look for an updated article on the Prytania Theater and its remodeling in the October issue of Box Office Magazine.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 11, 2007 at 9:05 am

A Hillgreen-Lane theater organ opus 567 size 2/9 was installed in the Prytania Theater in 1920. In 1927 that organ was replaced with a Hillgreen-Lane opus 891 size 2/5 theater organ.

joysmovies
joysmovies on January 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm

This is a city archive photo from April 11, 1968 of firefightere fighting a fire at the theatre.
View link

Dublinboyo
Dublinboyo on April 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Just got back from a trip to NOLA and made a point of stopping by the Prytania Theater to see it. What a wonderful place! Had to see it as it plays a big role in one of my fav novels: “A Confederacy of Dunces.” A lovely small, charming neighbourhood theater and a wonderful place to see a film. Attended the 2:30 pm matinee of “Alice in Wonderland” in 3D. This theater runs digital now and what a presenation! Sound is clear and loud and the projection is first rate. Truly a great theater to watch a film. Matinee was about 1/3 full for a weekday. Sadly, this is the only theater left open in New Orleans and the last single screen theater in the whole state of Louisiana. No open theaters remain on Canal Street and the devastaion that was caused by Katrina is very evident when you see the condition these theaters are in. The Prytania Theater is truly a gem in a great city.

ArthurHardy
ArthurHardy on June 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Announcing a book about New Orleans Movie Theaters

THEREâ€\S ONE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
The History of the Neighborhood Theaters in New Orleans
is being written by 89-year-old Rene Brunet, the dean of the motion picture industry in Louisiana, and New Orleans historian and preservationist Jack Stewart. The 160-page,coffee table book will be released in November and is being published by Arthur Hardy Enterprises, Inc. Attention will be focused on 50 major neighborhood and downtown theaters, culled from a list of nearly 250 that have dotted the cityâ€\s landscape since the first “nickelodeon” opened in 1896 at 626 Canal Street. The book will be divided by neighborhoods and will open with a map and a narrative about each area. Each major theater will feature “then and now” photographs, historic information, and a short series of quotes from famous New Orleanians and from regular citizens who will share their recollections.
YOUR HELP IS NEEDED
We are trying to acquire memorabilia and additional photos of this theater for this publication. (deadline July 1.) You will be credited in the book and receive a free autographed copy if we publish the picture that you supply. Please contact Arthur Hardy at or call 504-913-1563 if you can help.

Messer00
Messer00 on August 4, 2012 at 12:55 am

I have been comming here since I was a child…the first movie I remeber being there for was Pochantis. I was born in 1992. I believe it was the reshowing. then I remember seeing the Xfiles movie. I saw one of the Harry Potters there. Rocky Horror Picture Show 3 or 4 times. The Artist and The Dark Knight Rises Twice. Those are all the films I remember but anyway This is the best most authentic still running open movie theater from the past. that was long in new orleans. i love this place it will be in my heart forever.

Johnny23
Johnny23 on September 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm

the only real old-school movie theater in new orleans. obviously run by people who care about movies. they even run midnight showings of cult films on weekends. i love this place dearly. if given the choice, i wouldn’t see movies anywhere else. alas, with the single-screen, you only get a single choice of movie to see, and it’s been quite a while since they showed anything i was particularly interested in seeing.

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